For many birdwatchers in New York, November 30th is an important date: the day that backyard bird feeders can go back up. To avoid conflicts with bears, DEC highly recommends only feeding birds from November 30th to April 1st.
There are many natural sources of winter food for birds including birch catkins, spruce and fir cones, dried seed heads from native grasses and flowers, and lingering fruits on native or ornamental trees, shrubs, and vines. Incorporating a variety of these native plants into your landscape is a great way to improve winter habitat for birds.
Bird feeders can supplement these natural food sources and may attract greater numbers or different kinds of birds to your yard. A simple tube feeder with black oil sunflower seed is a great place to start.
Depending on where you live, you might expect to see chickadees, nuthatches, juncos, and goldfinches. Adding suet is a sure bet to draw in woodpeckers. In a good year for winter finches, siskins and redpolls will flock to feeders filled with nyjer (“thistle”) seed.
Peanut butter may be used if it’s cold out; otherwise the fats go rancid and are a health risk to birds. To provide a source of water, try installing a birdbath heater or bubbler and regularly refreshing the water. If you are drawing wild birds into your yard with feeders, it’s important to cultivate bird-friendly habitat by:
- providing nearby cover such as evergreen trees, native shrubs, or even discarded Christmas trees;
- placing feeders away from windows and making windowpanes bird-safe with screens, netting, decals, or vertical tape;
- regularly cleaning feeders to avoid spreading disease;
- securely storing bird seed indoors;
- keeping cats indoors;
- feeding pets inside to avoid inadvertently attracting feral cats, rodents, or other wildlife; and
- taking down feeders in the spring to avoid bear conflicts.
Photo of evening grosbeaks in Otsego County by Katherine Yard.